It’s a fight to finish as Real Madrid square up against Manchester City at the famous Santiago Bernabeu. With a place in the Champions League final at stake, both teams go into the encounter ready to give it all.
The first leg at the Etihad Stadium lived up to the billing as fans were served some of the best football on offer. Both teams went full throttle in the game, firing on all cylinders. The result was a seven-goal thriller that served only as an appetizer for the second instalment.
With all eyes now on the Spanish capital, here are three talking points ahead of the showdown.
1. Real Madrid Remain Focused on Manchester City and European Glory Despite La Liga Triumph
The semi-final return leg couldn’t have come at a better time for Real. The Spanish giants have just wrapped up another La Liga title in a rather comfortable manner.
Social media posts and pre-match comments show just how focused Madrid players are on the encounter. What could have been a distraction has been used as a precursor to the main celebration.
Carlo Ancelotti is talking tough, as are his players, about their chances against City in their quest to reach yet another final and win another European title.
But they face an equally determined Manchester City team that has unfinished business in the Champions League after reaching the final last term.
Needless to say, Pep Guardiola and his players are desperate for continental success at this point after conquering the home front. Not even Real Madrid will be allowed to have things their way.
2. Both Teams High on Confidence Although Key Defenders Out
Just as Real Madrid are celebrating the league title, Manchester City are closing on on a fourth title in five years. The players are in high spirits, knowing their destiny is in their own hands. Win the remaining four games and there will be cause to celebrate.
Comments from Luka Modric and his manager suggest they are confident of carrying the day. On the other hand, listening to Kevin De Bruyne and his manager gives the same feeling about their chances.
Confidence is sky-high from both camps.
But they will each miss a key member of the squad due to injury. Based on their role in the team, Madrid will likely suffer more as David Alaba is sidelined. But his replacement Nacho is vastly experienced and can hold his own as well.
For City, John Stones has been ruled out of the encounter. Like his opposite number in the Madrid side, the centre-back could not finish the first leg encounter and remains unfit for this one.
With Ruben Dias back to full fitness, City should have no problems. But the big question is whether the returning Kyle Walker would be fit enough to feature and give his best at right back.
3. Both Teams Evenly Matched
Manchester City may be playing football that is more pleasing to the eye than Real in terms of the teams’ possession of the ball, passing and shots on goal. But what the Los Blancos lack in silkiness, they make up for in experience and ability to grind out favourable results even against the odds.
As both Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea can testify to, Madrid are capable of rising to the occasion, even when the team looks down and out.
It is that resilience that ensured the team was able to score three goals at the Etihad Stadium when City threatened to run riot. Despite racing to a two-goal lead in what initially seemed like a one-sided affair, the 13-time European champions stormed back into the game to fire warning signs of what to expect in the return fixture.
City’s one-goal lead from the first leg now seems like an easy obstacle to overcome especially with the home team having several advantages.
Playing before the home fans, with the team in high spirits after winning La Liga. Parading the best striker in the world at the moment in Kareem Benzema, who is scoring goals for fun. Not the least being backed by the experience of having been here several times and scaled through the hurdle.
All these factors come together to give the home team a unique advantage.
But they face a Manchester City side at their best. After already losing out on two domestic trophies, it’s now a case of all or nothing for the remaining two. The Premier League title and the Champions League trophy are now within touching distance. Failure at this point could lead to an embarrassing end to the season.
Imagine losing out on both the UCL and EPL titles in a matter of a few weeks!
It could be catastrophic. Hence, the need to give it all.
In the end, this promises to be a keenly contested semi-final fixture that will deliver another breathtaking performance for the enjoyment of the fans.
From all indications, the result can go either way.